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Quizzing the coaches as the Beanpot approaches

beanpot Quizzing the coaches as the Beanpot approaches

Boston College has won the last four Beanpot titles, including in 2011 when Brian Gibbons held the prize (photo: Melissa Wade).

BOSTON – It’s one of the great traditions of college hockey: The calendar turns to February, and we turn our attention to the Beanpot.

It is without a doubt the most unique in-season tournament in college hockey. The event serves as a collective two-week homecoming for alumni from the four schools and a launching pad for the final month of the regular season.

Love it or hate it, the Beanpot grips the sporting consciousness in Boston for two weeks.

The festivities officially got under way on Tuesday, when all four head coaches (Ted Donato of Harvard, Jim Madigan of Northeastern, David Quinn of Boston University and Jerry York of Boston College), their team captains, and members of the media gathered at TD Garden for the annual pre-tournament luncheon.

We took the opportunity to ask each coach the same set of questions, to compare how each views his team’s performance to date and what will be the keys to victory over the next two weeks:

USCHO: If you could describe your season to date in one word, what would it be and why?

Donato: Close. In our league, we’ve lost a lot of close games. We’re learning how to win. Eight out of 10 losses have been by one goal. We’re very close.

Madigan: Resilient. It’s a team that was faced with some obstacles early. From the preseason poll, people from outside didn’t believe we could win. When we got into the season, guys worked hard and showed a lot of resiliency in games. It’s been borne into their approach this season.

Quinn: Inconsistent. When we’re good, we can be pretty good, but when we’re bad, we can be pretty bad. I think a lot of it has to do with youth — nine freshmen in the lineup every night. Not only are we young in class, but their ages too: We don’t have a bunch of 20-year old freshmen.

York: Two words — more cohesive. I think we’re playing better as a team. We stress all the time that the team that plays best [each] night will win the game. Records don’t matter. That’s our mind-set.

USCHO: Give us an outlook of your team’s chances for the tournament. What’s the one thing that needs to go right for you to win?

Donato: When you play in this atmosphere and want to have success, goaltending is a key for any possible championship.

Madigan: Goaltending. It’s a short tournament. Any team I’ve been on that has won this tournament — it’s been three — we’ve had great goaltending. It can be a cliché, but you’re talking about two games. If you get great goaltending, you build momentum that way, and only need a couple of goals to win.

Quinn: We’re going to have to play simple hockey. We get into trouble when we try to play special hockey and make special plays. If we can manage to keep things simple for 60 minutes, we give ourselves a chance night-in, night-out.

York: Discipline. Not just in penalties, but defensive zone coverage, discipline to be in the right position for yourself, [line] changes … anything that involves doing the right thing at the right time.

USCHO: If there’s an X factor, or perhaps a story that we haven’t heard of yet that might emerge from your team in this tournament, what do you think it’ll be?

Donato: Offensively, we have another gear that we haven’t gotten to yet. We’re a skilled, fast team, and we’re close to being an explosive team offensively. Hopefully we’ll be able to have things clicking for this Beanpot.

Madigan: It’ll be some of the secondary scoring, which we’re just starting to get.

Quinn: I’m going to say Robbie Baillargeon. He was great on Friday (vs. Vermont). Maybe the Baillargeon-[Danny] O’Regan-[Evan] Rodrigues line. Hopefully if Rodrigues is healthy — he’s still not quite there yet — I’m anxious to see what that line can do.

York: I’d like to see more balanced scoring from our club. We’re getting a lot of goals from the same players. That could put us over the top. It might be a defenseman or a forward, but I’d like that to happen. They don’t necessarily have to put up big numbers, but winning their shifts on the ice is one of our goals.

USCHO: One last “one word” question: What one word would you use to describe the Beanpot, what it means to you or your club?

Donato: Excitement.

Madigan: Magical.

Quinn: Special.

York: Exciting.

Splits across the league and disappointments

These  are the three things I think I learned this week.

1. Four points can’t get any harder than this.

Coaches have long bemoaned the difficulty of getting four points against any Hockey East opponent, regardless of position in the standings.

Well, this weekend became their quintessential example. All five league series ended in splits. (With an 11-team league, someone has got to be the odd man out and this time it was Boston College, which defeated Penn State in its lone contest.)

Arguably, the scheduling helped produce splits.  Three of the five series were of the home-and-home variety and matched teams closely positioned in the standings: Providence vs. Massachusetts-Lowell, Maine vs. New Hampshire and Merrimack vs. Massachusetts.

The other two series involved teams with a sizeable gap in their records but both of those two-game sets were held at the barn of the school lower in the standings: Northeastern at Notre Dame and Vermont at Boston University.

All that said, it’s been a long time (as far as I can recall) since every single series resulted in a split.

2. Maybe Lowell simply isn’t as good as I’ve thought.

The River Hawks looked so dominant last year once the first 10 or so games were out of the way. And with almost everyone coming back this season, they were an obvious pick to again be one of the league’s top teams.

I’ve been waiting and waiting for them to hit their stride this year and perform like last season’s edition, but I’m wondering if perhaps that just isn’t going to happen.

To be clear, splitting in a home-and-home with Providence is no embarrassment. In fact, it’s a pretty predictable outcome. And Lowell is still ninth in the PairWise.

But the way the River Hawks lost at Providence on Friday is a concern. Leading 4-2 with eight minutes left in regulation, they gave up three goals in less than four minutes. And not one of them was a power-play goal.

Three even-strength goals in the latter half of the third period to blow a two-goal lead? The River Hawks?  And Connor Hellebuyck (who didn’t give up more than three goals in any contest last year following his inaugural game) surrendering five to a team not named BC?

I’d have bet the ranch against that happening.

3. Maybe Notre Dame isn’t as good as I’ve thought and Northeastern definitely is better.

I’ve said it before (and then picked them to lose), but the Huskies have earned a ton of respect. They’re in second place and tied for seventh in the PairWise. They win at home (6-3-1) and on the road (8-4-1).

For the second time in as many weeks, they’ve won while getting outshot by a considerable margin. On Friday, 15th-ranked Notre Dame outshot them 30-14, but the Huskies did more than prevail, shutting out the Irish, 4-0, in their own barn.

For Notre Dame, I’m feeling the same concerns I have about Lowell.  Last season, the Irish finished second in the CCHA and then won the league tournament.

This year, though, they’re still under .500 within Hockey East. I was expecting a contender.  Yes, they’ve suffered injuries during key stretches, but that’s true of just about everyone. (See New Hampshire beating Maine on Friday without Trevor van Riemsdyk and Grayson Downing.) And yes, they’re still 12th in the PairWise due to strong nonconference results.

But we’re getting to the point where expectations based on last year’s results no longer make sense.

Hockey East picks – Jan. 24-25

I’ve closed to within three after being down by five a few weeks ago. Here’s hoping I pick up two more this week.

I’m making some risky picks, so if they don’t work out, I’ll just claim my anesthesiologist got to me early.

Dave last week: 10-3-2
Jim last week: 9-4-2
Dave’s record-to-date: 108-58-22
Jim’s record-to-date: 111-55-22

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Jan. 24

Massachusetts-Lowell at Providence
Dave’s pick: The only sane pick in this home-and-home series is to go with the home team each night. But when have I ever been called sane? My gut tells me that Lowell’s strong stretch run begins this weekend. And from an analytic side, I think that Lowell’s league-best defense and Providence’s league-worst power play proves to be a toxic combination for the Friars.
UML 2, PC 1 (OT)
Jim’s pick: I’m actually going to go with Dave on this one. Lowell’s defense has been pretty incredible in recent weeks. The question is whether or not the offense can come alive. I think it can.
UML 3, PC 1

Vermont at Boston University
Dave’s pick: BU has the league’s worst team defense ranking? (Other than UMass, no other team is even close.) Say it ain’t so.
UVM 4, BU 2
Jim’s pick: This BU team is so damaged by injuries that I can’t pick for them even at home.
UVM 3, BU 2

Northeastern at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: The Huskies have been playing well and are 7-3-1 on the road, but I think Notre Dame’s second-half push begins here. The Irish are also 11-3-1 at home.
ND 3, NU 2
Jim’s pick: As strong as Northeastern has been, I think home ice matters a lot in this series.
ND 3, NU 2

Maine at New Hampshire
Dave’s pick: Insane pick number two: I’m going with the Black Bears despite their 0-7-2 road record. I just like the way they’ve been playing, other than that loss to BC (and I give everyone a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card against the Eagles).
Maine 3, UNH 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: Here is where Dave and I will disagree. UNH will be as hungry as imaginable after the way last weekend went at home against Union. Not to say that Maine won’t be hungry, but home ice is my deciding factor.
UNH 3, Maine 1

Merrimack at Massachusetts
Dave’s pick: I was all set to instinctively go with a home-team split in this series, but I can’t get over UMass losing at home to a 6-15-1 AIC team while the Warriors were splitting with fourth-ranked Quinnipiac. Is this Insane Pick Number 3? Especially since it means I’ve gone with the road team on four of the five Friday night contests?
MC 2, UMass 1
Jim’s pick: I think UMass can come out with a win here. If I’m wrong, I let Dave right back into this race. If I’m right, it’s lights out!
UMass 3, MC 1

Saturday, Jan. 12

Vermont at Boston University
Dave’s pick: Sorry, but I’m not picking BU until the results change, especially when matched against a 12-8-3 Vermont team that has a winning road record.
UVM 4, BU 3
Jim’s pick: I can’t say it any better myself.
UVM 3, BU 1

Providence at Massachusetts-Lowell
Dave’s pick: I’m going with the River Hawks sweeping for the reasons mentioned above. But I wouldn’t be shocked at any outcome in this series.
UML 2, PC 1
Jim’s pick: Lowell has been a better road team than a home team this season. And though I like Providence for the split, I’ve had such bad luck calling splits that I’ll go out on the limb with a River Hawks sweep.
UML 3, PC 2

Northeastern at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: Is it me or is this an exceptionally brutal week for picks? I’m going with the Irish sweep even though the Huskies have proven me wrong before.
ND 3, NU 2
Jim’s pick: I’m not picking splits, right? Well, maybe not.
NU 4, ND 2

Massachusetts at Merrimack
Dave’s pick: Finally, a pick I have total confidence in.  Uh-oh. I know what that means.
MC 3, UMass 1
Jim’s pick: Merrimack does play well at home. And another split pick. Kill me now.
MC 4, UMass 1

New Hampshire at Maine
Dave’s pick: I just can’t figure out UNH. It’s utter insanity to pick Maine to sweep a team as good as the Wildcats, but this is my week of insanity.
Maine 3, UNH 2
Jim’s pick: Okay, make that three split picks in a row. Honestly, my gut say tie here, but that will never be my pick.
Maine 4, UNH 2

Boston College at Penn State
Dave’s pick: I’d bet the ranch on this one.
BC 6, PSU 1
Jim’s pick: As Dave said, bet the ranch, particularly the way that BC’s offense is clicking right now.
BC 5, PSU 1

Opening a gap, two teams with lost weekends and stealing two points

These are the three things I think I learned this weekend.

1. The regular season title is Boston College’s to lose.

The Eagles created more separation at the top of the Hockey East standings, defeating Boston University and Maine, while no other league team picked up four points in the standings. With a 10-1-1 Hockey East record, they now hold a six-point lead over their closest competitor.

Massachusetts-Lowell looks like the one team that could threaten BC, in part because those two teams appear to be the class of the league and also because the River Hawks are the one contender that not only holds three games in hand on BC but also plays the Eagles twice late in the season.

2. New Hampshire and Boston University were the only teams to lose twice on the weekend.

A couple of years ago, I’d have had a tough time imagining the writing of that last sentence. But it’s the new reality.

New Hampshire got swept by sixth-ranked Union, which is no disgrace and also has no effect on the Hockey East standings. But it does drop the Wildcats to a 1-8 record against Top 10 teams. They’ve done considerably better against teams ranked 11th-20th, but until they prove otherwise, it looks like there’s a ceiling on how far this team can go.

For BU, the talk isn’t about ceilings but floors.  The Terriers’ two losses this weekend came at the hands of BC and Lowell, so those were four lost points in the standings. It’s almost gotten to the point of kicking a team when it’s down, but the Terriers’ performance in the first period against Lowell spoke volumes. They were outshot 19-2.

Can anyone recall the last time BU ranked ninth in Hockey East scoring this late in the season?  I can’t.

And now that top defensemen Matt Grzelcyk is reportedly out for the season, the outlook appears even more grim.  Unless the Terriers start winning, this may be the last I discuss their plight.

3. Northeastern stole an important two points on Friday.

The Huskies moved into second place with a 3-2 win over Vermont that defied logic. They were outshot 48-19, and after two periods they led 1-0 despite being outshot 34-11.

Of course, there was some logic to the win. Clay Witt has been a revelation in goal this season — a save percentage of .943! — and he was a stud in net on this night. Additionally, Braden Pimm, who scored the go-ahead goal in the second period, may be the least appreciated 15-goal scorer in college hockey.

That said, since Vermont won the following evening, the Catamounts have to be kicking themselves over the lost opportunity, especially since the loss counted as a league game and the win did not.

Hockey East picks – Jan. 17-21

Here I was thinking I had an awful week of picks last week. Until I realized that Dave was equally as bad.

Jim last week: 6-4-1
Dave last week: 6-4-1
Jim to-date: 102-51-20
Dave to-date: 98-55-20

Friday, January 16

Boston University at Boston College
Jim’s pick: Though they say throw out the records when these two teams meet, when the records are this different I can’t do as such.
BC 4, BU 2
Dave’s pick: If BU were playing better, throwing out the records just might make some sense but not  now.
BC 5, BU 2

Vermont at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: I’ve been impressed by both of these teams thus far but think home ice could be the difference here.
NU 3, UVM 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed, even on the score, although I feel like I’m oh-for-the-season with the Huskies.
NU 3, UVM 2

Maine at Massachusetts-Lowell
Jim’s pick: If Lowell wasn’t coming off a loss, I might be tempted to pick against them. But this River Hawks team should be hungry enough to win on home ice.
UML 3, Maine 1
Dave’s pick: I’ve liked what I’ve seen from Maine, and Lowell has been more inconsistent than the juggernaut we saw last year, but I’m still going with the River Hawks.
UML 3, Maine 2 (OT)

Providence at Colorado College
Jim’s pick: I have a feeling this series is going to be a split. But I’ve been burned really bad calling splits this season so I’m picking both for the Friars.
PC 4, CC 2
Dave’s pick: Too bad.  I wish Jimmy went with a split because I’ll be stunned if the Friars don’t sweep the 2-15-3 Tigers. (Even though PC has only a tie in its last four games.)
PC 5, CC 2

Lake Superior at Notre Dame
Jim’s pick: LSSU is a better team than most think. But Notre Dame, especially at home, is darn good too.
ND 3, LSSU 2
Dave’s pick: I’ve been disappointed in the Irish this year. I mean, 3-5-1 in league play is far from what I expected. But only a tough-looking schedule down the stretch keeps me from thinking they won’t crank it up a notch.
ND 4, LSSU 2

Merrimack at Quinnipiac
Jim’s pick: Nothing thus far tells me that Merrimack has the weapons to beat an excellent Quinnipiac squad.
QU 4, MC 2
Dave’s pick: I spent all least year doubting Quinnipiac. Not again.
QU 4, MC 1

Union at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: This series should tell us a lot about how good a team New Hampshire is. And again, though thinking a split, I think a sweep will be my pick.
UNH 3, Union 2
Dave’s pick: I cry unfair! Jimmy has taken my patented “should be a split, but I’m picking a sweep” mantra and stolen it. That makes this monkey see, monkey do.
UNH 4, Union 3

Saturday, January 18

Maine at Boston College
Jim’s pick: After how much Maine impressed me last weekend, it’s hard to think I’d pick the Black Bears to lose twice. But that’s exactly what I’m doing.
BC 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: Same here. BC is just too good, especially considering the venue.
BC 4, Maine 2

Boston University at Massachusetts-Lowell
Jim’s pick: On paper this should be all River Hawks. I’m betting with paper.
UML 3, BU 2
Dave’s pick: Not to be harsh, but if the Terriers were a stock, I’d be selling for whatever I could get.
UML 4, BU 1

Quinnipiac at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: Even on home ice, I don’t think Merrimack can beat QU.
QU 4, MC 2
Dave’s pick: Unfortunately, I can’t disagree. I’d really like an easier foe so I could go with the Warriors, but not against Quinnipiac.
QU 3, MC 2

Lake Superior at Notre Dame
Jim’s pick: Another home sweep for the Irish.
ND 4, LSSU 2
Dave’s pick: Grrrr.  I can’t make up any ground matching Jim’s picks, but I just don’t see Notre Dame losing this game.
ND 3, LSSU 2

Vermont at Northeastern (NC)
Jim’s pick: Though I feel like Vermont could win, I’m not confident enough to pick that way.
NU 2, UVM 1
Dave’s pick: Do I pick Vermont just to differ with Jim?  No, I’m going with the picks I wrote down before seeing his choices. I do think it’ll be a higher-scoring game than Jim does.
NU 4, UVM 3 (OT)

Providence at Colorado College
Jim’s pick: My heart says split, my pick says sweep.
PC 4, CC 3
Dave’s pick: I wish Jimmy had gone with his heart, because every molecule of my body is screaming PC sweep here. (If not, the Friars’ current mini-slump becomes a cause for concern.)
PC 4, CC 1

Union at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: See above. Ditto.
UNH 4, Union 3
Dave’s pick: Well, I’m not picking against BC on Tuesday, so this is my last opportunity to disagree with Jim. If I don’t, then this will be the first time in a  very long time (ever?) that we’ve totally matched picks.  On my sheet of paper, I had UNH sweeping, but I’m feeling boxed in here so… I’m going to reverse course just to disagree. But I don’t feel good about this….
Union 3, UNH 2 (OT)

Tuesday, January 21

Boston College at Merrimack
Jim’s pick: Things don’t get much easier for the Warriors.
BC 4, MC 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed.  I can’t pick against the Eagles these days.
BC 5, MC 2

 

Rain delays, panic buttons and a sign of life

Yes, you can have a rain delay in hockey. That leads my list of three things I learned this week in Hockey East:

1. If you play hockey at a baseball stadium, expect a rain delay

Rain delay isn’t a term that hockey fans are familiar with, but on Saturday those in attendance at Frozen Fenway had the unique opportunity to experience such a delay. Thunder, lightning and heavy rains interrupted the first period of the game between Boston University and Maine at Fenway Park as part of the final game of Frozen Fenway. Credit to all those involved who worked extremely hard to get the ice surface back to playing shape in the delay that lasted 1 hour, 9 minutes. At the end of the day, somehow both hockey games were completed with Maine and Northeastern coming away winners.

2. Time to push the panic button at BU?

Anyone who tolerated the rain delay at Fenway now know that there is cause for concern for Boston University. The Terriers fell behind 5-0 to Maine before rallying to get within two before surrendering two empty-netters for a 7-3 final. The BU defense looked pedestrian for much of the first half of the game as Maine scored at will, including four first period goals. BU is 2-5-1 in Hockey East and sits in 10th place. There are still 12 league games left for BU, but this is quickly becoming a lost season for the struggling Terriers and first-year head coach David Quinn.

3. Merrimack back to winning ways

Merrimack had plenty of reason for concern heading to Clarkson for a two-game series this weekend. The Warriors entered the weekend with just a single win in their last 10 games (1-6-3) and were headed on the road to face a very good team in 11th-ranked Clarkson. A rally on Friday night to tie the game was spoiled as Merrimack fell, 3-2. But Saturday’s 4-0 shutout provided a lot of good signs for the struggling Warriors club. For starters, the Warriors potted four goals (one was an empty netter) and two of those came on the power play, something that needs to click if Merrimack is to have any success. On top of that, Rasmus Tirronen finished the game with a 34-save shutout. It is still a long-way back for the Warriors, but Saturday’s win could be the jump start this team needs.

Hockey East picks – Jan. 10-14

I picked up a single game on Jim last week. I don’t know whether that’s good news because it’s improvement or bad news because I needed more.

Dave last week: 7-3-4
Jim last week: 6-4-4
Dave’s record-to-date: 92-51-19
Jim’s record-to-date: 96-47-19

Here are this week’s picks:

Friday, Jan. 10

Providence at Boston College
Dave’s pick: Jon Gillies may be back, but the Friars have hit a few potholes. BC isn’t the right team to be facing now.
BC 3, PC 1
Jim’s pick: Home ice may be the deciding factor here.
BC 3, PC 2

Merrimack at Clarkson
Dave’s pick: Clarkson is 12-2-1 against everyone else, but 0-4-1 against Hockey East. That would argue for picking the Warriors, but they’re still winless on the road.
Clarkson 3, MC 2
Jim’s pick: Clarkson has just enough talent to beat the offensively-challenged Warriors.
Clarkson 3, MC 1

Massachusetts at Cornell
Dave’s pick: The momentum the Minutemen had been picking up before the holiday break seems all gone now. Cornell is just too good, especially at Lynah.
Cornell 4, UMass 2
Jim’s pick: If this was a home game for UMass, I’d be tempted to pick the Minutemen. The fact is, it’s not.
Cornell 3, UMass 2

Alabama-Huntsville at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: It’s great that the Chargers kept their program alive, but at 1-21-0 they’re easy pickings for the Irish.
ND 5, UAH 1
Jim’s pick: No brainer here.
ND 6, UAH 2

Saturday, Jan. 12

Frozen Fenway: Massachusetts-Lowell vs. Northeastern
Dave’s pick: Both teams are coming on strong now, but the River Hawks are the stronger of the two.
UML 3, NU 2
Jim’s pick: This is a tough one to pick given that NU won the first meeting. I assume Lowell won’t hit four posts this time.
UML 4, NU 2

Frozen Fenway: Maine vs. Boston University
Dave’s pick: The Terriers just lost at home to a 2-11-2 Dartmouth team, running their winless  streak to five games.
Maine 4, BU 1
Jim’s pick: This one shouldn’t be close. Though it likely will be.
Maine 3, BU 2

Boston College at Brown
Dave’s pick: Brown has played .500 hockey this year. That ain’t good enough against the Eagles.
BC 5, Brown 2
Jim’s pick: Agree. This is BC’s game to lose.
BC 3, Brown 2

Dartmouth vs. New Hampshire
Dave’s pick: UNH may be going places this year; Dartmouth isn’t.
UNH 4, DC 2
Jim’s pick: Very tough pick given that Dartmouth made BU look bad at home. Manchester has rarely been kind to UNH either. I’m going Green.
DC, 3 UNH 2

Merrimack at Clarkson
Dave’s pick: I’d be picking the Warriors to split at home, but not on the road.
Clarkson 3, MC 2 (OT)
Jim’s pick: This is one good, and very hungry, Clarkson team.
Clarkson 4, MC 1

Vermont at Colgate
Dave’s pick: The Catamounts are 8-1-2 over their last 11. I’m lumbering onto that bandwagon.
UVM 4, Colgate 2
Jim’s pick: I’d feel better if this was in Vermont. No sure the Cats can handle a tough road game against a team that just tied and beat No. 1 and No. 2.
Colgate 3, UVM 2

Alabama-Huntsville at Notre Dame
Dave’s pick: Anything I say at this point would seem like picking on the Chargers. So I’ll just list the score.
ND 6, UAH 1
Jim’s pick: Second night is typically a lot tighter for the Chargers. Doesn’t mean it’s a win..
ND 3, UAH 2

Tuesday, Jan. 14

American International at Massachusetts
Dave’s pick: UMass has struggled in its last few games, but the Yellow Jackets are 1-10 over their last 11.
UMass 4, AIC 1
Jim’s pick: Western Mass. battle goes to the hosts.
UMass 4, AIC 2

 

The effect of World Juniors, facing a team three times, and teams going in different directions

These are three things I think I learned this past week.

1. Some teams handled the loss of their players to the World Juniors better than others.

This isn’t exactly front page news since you’d expect this outcome, at least to some extent.  And a number of players, most notably from Boston College and Notre Dame, made it back for this weekend’s games.

But it is noteworthy that despite missing goaltender Thatcher Demko and defensemen Ian McCoshen and Steven Santini, BC didn’t miss a beat. The Eagles now own a five-game winning streak.

On the other hand, Providence only went 1-1-1 without goaltender stud Jon Gillies. Nick Ellis didn’t play poorly at all in Gillies’s absence, but Ellis didn’t match the 10-1-3 record and .941 save percentage of the Friars’ most important player.

Update: I overlooked a fourth game that Providence played without Gillies: a Dec. 20 win over Army. This means Ellis was actually 2-1-1 while Gillies was away. Ellis’s stats were very good against the three teams he faced with losing records: he stopped  19-of-20 shots against Army (3-14-0), 21-of-23 shots against Dartmouth (2-11-2), and 30-of-31 shots against Merrimack (4-9-3).

Obviously, those are strong results, which includes two wins and a tie with Merrimack.

The one game, though, where you could argue that Gillies’s absence cost the Friars was their one loss, 3-2 to Air Force. Ellis stopped 27-of-30 shots.

That’s not to scapegoat Ellis for not quite being Gillies’s equal. You could probably count on one hand the goalies in the country who are, and my guess is that there are plenty of teams who’d welcome Ellis with open arms.

But would Gillies have pulled out a tie or a win? I think there’s a good chance.

(Teams like Notre Dame and Boston University were fortunate enough to have their schedules line up in such a way that their World Juniors participants didn’t miss a game.)

2. Massachusetts-Lowell proved that you can beat the same team three times in a week. Almost.

One prevailing thought is that you can’t beat a good team three times in a short span of time. A week ago, the River Hawks defeated Clarkson (at the time 12-4-1) in the Catamount Cup, and then faced the Golden Knights again this past weekend.

Lowell didn’t quite sweep, but wound up with five of six points in the three games, proving how tough the River Hawks are likely to be down the stretch.

3. Perennial powers New Hampshire and BU are going in opposite directions.

UNH took on 19th-ranked Nebraska-Omaha last weekend and swept in impressive fashion, 6-3 and 5-2. Other than getting swept by BC before the break, the Wildcats have now won five of their last six games.

At the other end of the spectrum, BU is increasingly looking like a team in trouble. Winless in their last four games, the Terriers took only a single point of four in a home-and-home series with a Merrimack team that had still been looking for its first Hockey East win at the time. Then they lost at home to Atlantic Hockey ‘s Bentley Falcons. This past weekend, BU lost to a 4-7-2 Harvard team. BU fans have a right to be very concerned.

Hockey East picks – Jan. 3-8

Dave and I only picked one game different – the Vermont/Clarkson game – and I got it correct, further opening up my lead.

Jim last week: 9-4-3
Jim to-date: 90-43-15
Dave last week: 8-5-3
Dave to-date: 85-48-15

Friday, January 3

Maine at Quinnipiac
Jim’s pick: Here are two teams both playing excellent hockey right now. I’m am going with Quinnipiac simply because of home ice. Maine hasn’t won on the road and the Bobcats are solid are home.
QU 3, Maine 2
Dave’s pick: Agreed. Maine played well on neutral ice in Florida last week, but still must prove itself on the road.
QU 4, Maine 2

Clarkson at Massachusetts-Lowell
Jim’s pick: It wasn’t an easy win for Lowell but last Sunday at the Catamount Cup was a win over the Golden Knights. I feel like the River Hawks should win again.
UML 3, CU 1
Dave’s pick: Even though the Knights are 6-2-0 on the road, I’m not believing they’re as good as their record. At home, the River Hawks should prevail.
UML 4, CU 2

Nebraska-Omaha at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: This is one I’m struggling with as UNH hasn’t been consistent and UNO has played above expectations all season. Even at home, I think I’m going with the Mavericks.
UNO 4, UNH 3
Dave’s pick: UNH has been tough to predict all year and is still a game under .500 at home, but I can’t see the Mavericks emerging with a win here.
UNH 4, UNO 3

Dartmouth at Vermont
Jim’s pick: This is the end of a long homestand for Vermont in which the Cats have been near perfect.
UVM 4, DC 2
Dave’s pick: The Catamounts shouldn’t allow a 2-11-1 team to come into their barn and come out with a win.
UVM 5, DC 1

Saturday, January 4

Frozen Fenway (at Fenway Park, Boston)
Providence vs. Merrimack
Jim’s pick: These teams have had some great games against one another in recent years and this is on a big stage at Fenway. Doubtful that Jon Gillies will be back from World Juniors but still think Providence can prevail.
PC 3, MC 2
Dave’s pick: Without Gillies, the Friars are vulnerable, but Merrimack doesn’t have the firepower to take advantage.
PC 2, MC 1

Notre Dame vs. Boston College
Jim’s pick: Again, whether or not players will return from World Juniors in time for this game could be a major factor. Notre Dame really relies on Hinostroza, maybe more than BC its three players. So this prediction is a bit of a coin flip.
BC 4, Notre Dame 3
Dave’s pick: The Irish only had three wins and a tie in their last nine going into the break, so I’m seeing an easier win for the Eagles than Jim does.
BC 4, Notre Dame 2

Boston University at Harvard
Jim’s pick: In this potential Beanpot preview, I like the Terriers.
BU 5, Harvard 3
Dave’s pick: I’m picking the lesser of two evils here since I don’t like the way either team has played. But even though the Terriers are on the road, I think they’re the better team. Barely.
BU 4, Harvard 3 (OT)

Massachusetts at Northeastern
Jim’s pick: Despite UMass playing some decent games of late and Northeastern struggling, I’m going with the Huskies at home.
NU 4, UMass 2
Dave’s pick: It seems as though the Northeastern bandwagon got a flat as soon as I jumped on board, and I’m not feeling good about picking a team that gave up 13 goals last weekend. But I’m going with the Huskies’ firepower that scored eight times to forge a comeback tie with Dartmouth.
NU 4, UMass 3

Clarkson at Massachusetts-Lowell
Jim’s pick: It’s difficult to beat a team three times in a week, but I think Lowell is capable.
UML 4, CU 2
Dave’s pick: I’m not that big on the difficulty of beating a team three times in a week; I am big on the River Hawks being the superior team despite Clarkson’s 12-5-1 record.
UML 4, CU 2

Nebraska-Omaha at New Hampshire
Jim’s pick: Picking splits haven’t been a good thing for me this season, yet, I’m going to do it again.
UNH 3, UNO 1
Dave’s pick: I’m going with the Wildcats to sweep and kick off a strong second-half run.
UNH 3, UNO 2

Yale at Vermont
Jim’s pick: The defending national champs won’t allow Vermont to end its homestand on a positive note.
Yale 4, UVM 2
Dave’s pick: The Bulldogs haven’t been playing like national champs, so I’m going with the Catamounts in an upset.
UVM 3, Yale 2 (OT)

Tuesday, January 7

Northeastern at Providence
Jim’s pick: Gillies should definitely be back to Providence which makes the Friars my pick at home.
PC 3, NU 1
Dave’s pick: Agreed. The Friars once again become one of the top teams in the league, if not the nation. Gillies is that good.
PC 4, NU 2

Vermont at St. Lawrence
Jim’s pick: Even away from home, I’m picking the Cats in this one.
UVM 3, SLU 2
Dave’s pick: St. Lawrence lost four straight going into the break, including a 5-1 tilt at Vermont, so I’m going for the Catamounts without hesitation.
UVM 4, SLU 2

Wednesday, January 8

Dartmouth at Boston University
Jim’s pick: Dartmouth has seen a lot of Hockey East lately and this one won’t end much better.
BU 4, DU 2
Dave’s pick: Dartmouth proves to be what the doctor ordered for a Terriers team that ranked as one of the bigger first-half disappointments in Eastern hockey.
BU 4, DU 1

Two wins can’t take Catamount Cup for Lowell; Vermont’s last second goal breaks tie

When is two wins not enough to win a holiday tournament? Just ask the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks. That leads off the three things I learned this weekend:

1) Two wins but not enough goals denies Catamount Cup for Lowell

UMass Lowell seemingly took care of business this past weekend at the Catamount, beating Canisius, 5-2, and Clarkson, 3-1. But that wasn’t enough to take home the tournament championship. The only tournament this year that used a predetermined field, Lowell did not face Vermont, which beat Clarkson, 3-2, in Saturday’s opener, in what would be a true championship game scenario. Thus, both the River Hawks and Catamounts wound up with two wins apiece. The tournament’s tie breaker if teams were tied was the overall number of goals scored, not goal differential as is often used in international tournaments where there is a round robin to open. So when Vermont’s Jake Fallon scored with just two seconds left in Sunday’s final game, the Catamounts had a 6-2 victory and nine total goals, one more than the runner-up River Hawks. Still, come season’s end, both Lowell and Vermont will be more than happy to come out of this weekend with two victories.

2) Maine doesn’t lose but still can’t take home Florida title

Lowell wasn’t the only team without a loss this weekend that didn’t win their tournament. After a 4-0 win over Princeton in the semifinals of the Florida College Classic, the Black Bears tied Cornell, 1-1, in the final. That led to a shootout that went nine rounds before Cornell finally scored the game-winner. Which leads me to another pet peeve about holiday tournaments: Why, when a trophy is on the line, can’t teams play unlimited overtimes? It’s certainly exciting for the fans who can wait for the dramatic championship-winning goal. I understand coaches might like the idea of knowing a game will be over after 65 minutes, but a shootout will never be my preferred way of determining a champion.

3) Thus far, a good weekend for Hockey East

The holiday tournaments will continue through tonight, but thus far Hockey East teams have impressed. With UMass, Northeastern and Providence still to play tonight, Hockey East is a combined 8-2-2 in non-conference holiday tournament play. Boston College and Vermont both captured holiday tournament titles, while Providence and will take on Air Force tonight for the title at the Ledyard Bank tournament at Dartmouth. The one place Hockey East hasn’t had success is in the aforementioned shootouts. In addition to Maine dropping a shootout against Cornell, UMass lost to Quinnipiac in a shootout and thus will face Connecticut in the consolation game of the UConn Holiday Classic.

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